How to Write a Research Paper in a Day: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Write a Research Paper in a Day: Step-by-Step Guide

As all other students, you put a lot of effort into studying and writing homework assignments. You do your best to complete every single project on time. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

Research papers are long-term assignments. Your professors advise you to start early, and you try to do that. However, you have to think about tests and other assignments. Plus, you can’t stay in the library forever when you should also work on your social life.

Sooner or later, every student ends up in the same situation: the deadline is too close and the research paper is nowhere near finished. There are two usual reasons that lead to that scenario:

1) You forgot all about this project. You were too occupied with studying and classes. You didn’t set a reminder on your calendar, and your teacher just reminded you that the deadline is tomorrow.                

2) You kept procrastinating. The topic seemed simple enough, so you thought you had enough time. The day before the deadline, you’re facing the harsh reality: a research paper is more complex than it seems.

1. First Thing’s First: Calm Down!

What’s the first thing you do when you realize you have very little time to complete a whole research paper? Panic! It’s the usual reaction. You start saying to yourself:

  • “There’s no way I can do this!”
  • “It’s just impossible.”
  • “Oh my God, what am I gonna do?”

That’s the wrong approach to have. Panic will block you from achieving your full potential. The first thing you need to do is relax. You forgot about that paper. Now, you’re left with a tight deadline. That’s okay. You still have time and you can still do something about it.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Then, repeat to yourself:

  • “I can do this. I will research and write whole day. I’ll get it done by tomorrow.”

That positive self-talk will prepare your mind for the challenge that follows. Eat something nice, make yourself some coffee and get to work. If necessary, take a 20-minute power nap before you proceed with the following steps.

2. Use the Pomodoro Technique

When you have to stay focused on a challenging task, it’s important to have a system. The Pomodoro Technique is a pretty effective method that helps you do more work in less time. It’s based on a simple principle:

  • You work for 25 minutes straight, with no distractions.
  • After the work session, you take a 5-minute break.

It sounds pretty simple, but it works. Twenty five minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. Your mind can stay focused on the task at hand without much effort. After the short break, you’ll be able to get back to work.

If you start writing the paper without such system, the task will seem overwhelming. With the Pomodoro Technique, you’re giving yourself small steps towards the ultimate goal.

You can use a browser extension like Strict Workflow to keep track of your working and resting session. It’s great because it blocks your access to distracting websites during the working session. When you give yourself a break of 5 minutes, you can check what’s new on Twitter.  

3. Start With Brainstorming

Before you get to work, you’ll need to get an idea. How do you want this paper to look like? Go through a brief brainstorming stage, so you’ll form an outline to guide you to the process of research and writing.

    • Your teacher gave you a prompt for the research paper. Focus on it. What ideas do you get?
    • Make a list of a few possible topics. The brainstorming stage doesn’t need much thinking. You just write whatever comes to your mind.
    • Now, do a preliminary research on those topics. It shouldn’t take much time. Give 5 minutes to each idea you have. What topic gives you the greatest foundation for research? That’s what you should focus on.
    • Now that you have the topic, you should craft an outline. The outline will keep the research process relevant. It will help you write a focused discussion and be much quicker during the writing stage. You may need to alter the outline as you make progress. But that’s okay; the structure will be flexible. The question is: how exactly do you craft an outline?
      • First, form your thesis statement. It’s something you will prove throughout the research paper. The preliminary research provided you with enough resources. Keep in mind that professors don’t like broad thesis statement. If, for example, the prompt was related to World War 2, you’ll have to narrow it down. You can opt for a specific event during the war, or even explore the Italian uniforms. Whatever it is, you need to make it very specific.
      • Think of at least 3-4 subtopics. When you focus on the main topic, what questions do you have? You’ll want to answer those questions through the subtopics. That will be the body of your research paper.
  • Finally, the outline should include a conclusion, which will sum up the claims and connect the loose ends.

4. Now, Onto the Research!

Here is an important piece of advice: don’t research as you write. When you’re working on a serious research paper, you need to explore many resources that will help you get ideas and form opinions. This should be a separate stage. Since you have only one day to write this paper, you can give yourself 2 hours for the research. Here are few tips to consider:

    • Use Google Scholar instead of the usual Google search engine. It gives you access to high-quality scientific and academic sources. Only authoritative sources will make the paper look serious and well-researched.
    • Keep track of all online sources you collect. You will need to reference them. Otherwise, you’ll be guilty of plagiarism. You can create a private Pinterest board, where you’ll collect all materials you plan to use. As for the referencing, you can use a free citation generator, which will save you a lot of time.
  • Take notes! You can’t expect to remember everything you read and all ideas you get during this stage. If necessary, update the outline and make it more detailed.

5. Write It!

Finally, you’ve come down to the writing part. You might want to take a break before this stage. Have another cup of coffee and an energizing meal.

    • Again: relax! You have an outline with good ideas. You have enough resources to work with. At this stage, you should just bring everything together, and that won’t take more than 4 hours.
    • You don’t have to start with the introduction. Many students find it easier to write the thesis and develop the arguments first. Then, it’s easier to explain what the paper is about in the introductory part.
    • Don’t think much about the style and grammar at first. This is your first draft, which will go through changes later on. Focus on expressing your ideas in a logical way.
    • Support your arguments with quotes from the resources you have. They will add strength to the claims.
    • Use simple, clear language. Don’t try to make a good impression by writing endless sentences and using words you just found in the dictionary. You don’t need complex style to show you know what you’re writing about.
    • Don’t leave the references last. Cite the sources as you go!
  • Keep up with the Pomodoro method while you write. If you feel exhausted and you need a longer break, take a power nap and you’ll continue later.

6. Don’t Forget the Editing

You’re almost done, but it’s not time to celebrate just yet. When you finish writing the research paper, it’s important to take a break. You must be hungry, so get something to eat. Try not to think about the paper for at least one hour. When you go back to it, the mistakes will be more obvious.

SEE: Top 6 Editing Tools for College Students

  • Get rid of sentences and paragraphs that are not directly related to the thesis statement and subtopics.
  • Add more information when you notice gaps in the logical flow.
  • Pay attention to the citations. You have to format them in accordance with the required referencing style.
  • Proofread! Once you’re done fixing the major aspects of the paper, you can do the last reading. At this point, focus on the grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Now, you can congratulate yourself. You made it! You wrote an entire research paper in a single day. It’s not smart to procrastinate until the last day. However, it’s not impossible to write a paper in such a short timeframe. Now, have a good sleep. You deserve it.    

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